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Workers stage two-day walkout

CUPE workers Anneliese Skoropad, left, Claudette Dodd and Penny Pittman walk the picket lines at Vancouver Island University Tuesday morning. School is back in session today (Nov. 22) after a two-day strike by the university’s support staff. - CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin
CUPE workers Anneliese Skoropad, left, Claudette Dodd and Penny Pittman walk the picket lines at Vancouver Island University Tuesday morning. School is back in session today (Nov. 22) after a two-day strike by the university’s support staff.
— image credit: CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin

Support workers at Vancouver Island University are expected to return to work today (Nov. 22) following a two-day strike.

University officials cancelled all classes Tuesday and Wednesday due to job action by the Canadian Union of Public Employees, with limited services available to students at all four campuses.

The university’s nearly 300 support staff, including clerical, maintenance and food services workers, joined support staff at four other institutions in the action, which the union blames on stalled contract negotiations with the province.

Deborah Hopper, president of CUPE Local 1858, said no further job action is planned this week and the union is waiting to see what comes out of discussions between university administrators and the province before deciding on any future action.

“We’ll be taking a look at exactly what the situation is and then we’ll reassess,” she said. “It’s a holding pattern at the moment.”

Students are concerned about the strike, but there is no mass panic yet because so far it is only a two-day action, as opposed to the month-long faculty strike that occurred in the spring of 2011, which nearly resulted in the university cancelling the semester, said Steve Beasley, executive director of the students’ union.

“A two-day strike is preferable to an all-out walkout that lasts until an agreement is made,” he said. “If the union continues to have strike days rather than an all-out walkout … it doesn’t threaten the semester in the same way and that’s what students get really anxious about.”

Beasley said there could be more job action in the coming weeks if the issue is not resolved, but students are still proceeding through course materials and many will have spent the two days off classes studying for exams and doing assignments.

The students’ union received a handful of reports about instructors stating they would hold classes during the action and telling students to cross the picket lines, but the university dealt with this by announcing that all classes were cancelled, he added.

Mia Sabotke, a tourism student from Germany on a one-semester exchange program at VIU, said the job action is frustrating given the high fees international students pay to go to VIU.

“We pay such a high amount and we don’t have any classes,” she said. “It’s unbelievable.”

Sabotke questions how effective job action is so close to the end of the semester – she said some students are already finished for the semester – and many students, especially those who live on campus, were concerned because they couldn’t access the gym or cafeteria.

But two days is not a big deal at this point and as long as she can write her exams, she will be happy, she added.

Hopper said the decision to limit the walkout to two days was made because of the union’s concern about the impact on students.

If future job action is decided upon, she said there are numerous options besides a walkout.

Ian McLean, B.C. colleges coordinator for CUPE, said the two-day action has had an impact.

“It was to send a message to bargain with us, to talk with us, and we believe that that’s been successful,” he said. “There is talks going on with the province. Having discussions is what has prompted us to go back to work.”

Fred Jacklin, VIU’s registrar and director of enrolment services, said university officials are still actively negotiating with the union.

“We’re all optimistic,” he said. “I think generally speaking people are not happy [about the strike], but they understand that this is part of a collective bargaining process. I think a lot of students are taking some consolation in knowing it’s just two days.”

The university will continue keeping students informed as to what is happening and students who have questions about their courses should talk to the instructor, Jacklin added.

For updates, please visit www.viu.ca/labourupdate.

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